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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Plantanos and Collard Greens

Isaac asks about the term "high art" as a way to compensate for a lack of popularity.

This makes me wonder about one particular production.

So...this is a play that has had a long life in New York City (its been running since 2003) and has rarely been mentioned by the mainstream press (Garrett brought this up a few months back, I see, and noted the Times article).

It seems that its audience is segregated from the rest of the traditional New York theater audience.

Has anyone who reads this blog seen this play?

By any Off-Off and Off Broadway standards, it's a success.

Does it lack the mark of "high" art that would appeal to the Downtown Scene, or even larger non-profit institutions? Is it simply not using the traditional PR agents that have established relationships with the papers of record?

Or is there a little racism at play here? It can't be ignored. Is Plantanos and Collard Greens, simply put, not considered "for" the established artistic or moneyed audiences found attending most Downtown and Uptown Shows?

Given it's success, I'd say many downtown shows could learn a great deal from how its been produced, marketed and kept alive.

Furthermore, I wonder what Howard Barker or Peter Brook would think of it? Does this production show just how much that doesn't matter?


MattJ said...

did you find out about this show by googling your name Freeman? Come on, be honest.

Freeman said...

That. And that it's advertised on every single subway car in NYC.

Kyle said...

Note the reference to the "chitlin circuit" in this article from the Times today.

Trapped in the Closet 13-22

Didn't learn about this in college. Unsure how to proceed.

Joshua James said...

I heard about this play quite some time ago, but I've never seen it . . . but I don't see much theatre these days . . .

parabasis said...

The Chitlin Circuit is a fascinating part of american theatrical life and history that is largely ignored for fairly obvious reasons.

The thing I found most interesting about the NYTimes article on Plantanos is that it almost goes to great lengths to avoid saying anything qualitative about the show (is the acting good? is a question I had after reading it). Instead the review was about the business model and audience. Fascinating stuff.

I wonder if the writer, having seen the show, felt it was so foreign to their sensibility that they couldn't comment on what they thought of it...

Ian G. said...

Wow, we are definitely on the same cosmic plane today. I saw an ad for "Platanos" on the subway this morning, as I do almost every time I board a train, and for some reason thought "I gotta look this up online, I see these ads every freakin' day". So I did.

One thing bothers me. I have no idea whether or not the show is any good, but I looked at the photos on the website and there appears to be almost no set and very simple costumes and lighting for this play. It seems that it costs next to nothing to produce, aside from rental fees for the theatre. According to their website, tickets are $45.50. So I gotta wonder: How is it that a play can grow into bigger and bigger theatres in NYC and still be able to make an end run around Equity? I don't know this for a fact, but I'm an Equity member and I'm pretty sure that this is a strictly non-union endeavor. Presumably, the producers are making a great deal more money than they were when they started in a 70-seat house - now that they're in 400-seaters, are they paying their actors the equivalent of Off-Broadway salary? Are they paying their actors at all? Do they have benefits? Maybe the actors are well taken care of, maybe not. I think it's pretty clear, though, that this has become a tidy little cash cow (with very low overhead)for the producers and I gotta wonder whether the actors are getting any of it, or whether the producers feel that the actors should just be grateful that they're working.(It's not alone - there is another non-union show in NYC right now, the terribly titled "Angry Young Women in Low-Rise Jeans with High-Class Issues", that also has the temerity to charge $45 for tickets). When you're charging that much for a non-union show, it's a little hard to believe that you're giving the actors (and everyone else) a fair salary. After all, if you are giving them a fair salary, why would you avoid working with the union? What would the problem be? Unless you're greedy, that is.

Art said...

With regards to the Chitlin Circuit, and Isaac's comment about history ignoring these movements, I posted last week about a 2005 article in Theatre Journal in which the author traces how major figures in theatrical production and movements in theatre can be all but forgotten.

"Modernism's Master Narrative," which the critical establishment has adopted, also holds sway over the theatrical historians. So Collard Greens could possibly run for 40 years, or Tyler Perry's plays could be seen by more people than will ever see a stage version of some Pulitzer prize winner, but 100 years from now, believe it or not, they will probably not even register on the theatrical historians radar at all.

The writer of the article is very clear in making a distinction between the critical and the historical.

He is not arguing that popular successes should be admitted to the critical canon, but he is saying it is not helpful to the future of theatrical history that we lose memory of major successes and movements.


Freeman said...

Ian -

I think that's a really observation (as usual for you.)

I might add, though, that it might have been impossible for this show to have gathered audience and gained momentum over these years if it had used the Showcase Code. Perhaps now it's successful enough that it should unionize. But if it had done it's initial run under the Showcase Code, it would be effectively dead in NY right now.

Ian G said...

Very true, and a good illustration of why the Showcase Code needs to allow for longer runs, among other things. (Heads up, Equity: Extended runs are gonna happen with or without union involvement. Don't know about you, but I'd prefer with.)

What really concerns me, though, is the size of the theatres they are playing, the fact that they evidently sell out a lot, and the $45.50 ticket price. I just hope their success is reflected in the salaries and benefit packages offered to their actors. My own experience as a non-Equity actor, though, leaves me very skeptical.